Summa: diary (November 5-11, 2022)

Making the most of the time, because the days are evil (Ephesians 5.16)

November 5. 9.00 am: A day in the studio, rationalising pedalboards and kick-starting a return to studies in music theory and guitar practice. I admire the way that musical tones can be systematised, structured, and discussed with precision and objectivity. Colours and achromatic tones do not submit to such regulation; it’s not in their nature (much as I’d prefer this to be the otherwise). Music theory helps the musician to comprehend relationships and connections that aren’t always evident (to me, at least) on the surface of listening. I find its study very difficult. Things tend only to make sense (and stick) when I’m visualising concepts diagrammatically and audiolising them on a fretboard. Mind, ear, eyes, and fingers must be tutored together (for me, at least). Learning = doing.

2.00-5.00 pm

4.30 pm+, at the Aberystwyth Rugby Club, acoustic rehearsals for the evening’s municipal firework display were in progress:

November 7. As a consequence of Elon Musk’s acquisition of Twitter — and his subsequent sacking, imposition of fees, and liberalisation of its policy on free speech — a not inconsiderable number of users (one million and rising) have switched to another platform. For the time being, I remain undecided as to whether I’ll follow. Orbiting this transition are discussions about the use and abuse of social media in general, and their impact on the participants’ wellbeing. Many are pulling the plug on all their engagements, and reaping the rewards of better mental health, improved sleep, and more fulfilling real-world social interactions. Personally, social media has enabled me to maintain contact with family members, old friends, and colleagues; promote my work; view and hear other artists’ and scholars’ endeavours; engage in sensible political and religious debate with people who I’d otherwise not meet; and receive news and views — of a type aren’t represented by mainstream media — directly from the too-many sites of crisis in the world. Thus, I’d be loath to abandon it wholesale; my life would be impoverished. That said, part of me is nostalgic about the pre-social media, pre-Internet, days, much as (I imagine) some longed for a return to life before the invention of the spinning jenny, in the mid 18th century.

8.30 am: Onward with the BibleSound database and ‘Creed’ [working title projects]:


November 8. 8.30 am: COP27 is underway in Egypt; the midterm elections are taking place in America; the war in Ukraine and anti-oil protests continue; the poor and dispossessed suffer and perish throughout the world; and I sit at my desk in Wales (fed, clothed, and with a roof over my head) cataloguing biblical sounds. My aim is to appreciate far more the life that I’ve been given. 10.30 am: Theory study time. In order to learn, I must first become my own teacher. (I know that I know something when I can impart it to someone else.) Thus, whatever lesson material I glean, either online or from books, has to be translated into my own lesson material for my student (me) to study. In part, this is because I’ve played the part of the teacher for so long that he cannot now leave the classroom. In part, too, my student is a slow learner who grasps new knowledge and understanding only on his own terms. But I remain hopeful for him.

Illustration from: John Harvey, ‘Colour: Make-up, Mixing, and Matching’, lecture given to second year fine art (painting) undergraduates, School of Art, Aberystwyth University (2010-2021)

After lunch, rain clouds darkened the sky and poured down so loudly upon the windows as to make acoustic recording in the studio impossible. I bounced between the study and studio, one project and the other, to avoid the rain. ‘There’s no time to lose.’

November 9. 8.30am: Back to the BibleSound database, and on with item 102 of 533. It’s taken from the book of the prophet Ezra (480–440 BCE). The previous verse described the emotional and acoustic response of those who witnessed the foundation stone of the temple in Jerusalem being laid, following the Israelites return from exile. They wept and shouted for joy so very loudly

that the people could not distinguish the sound of the joyful shouts from the sound of the people’s weeping, for the people shouted so loudly that the sound was heard far way.

Ezra, chapter 3, and verse 3.

This is a fascinating observation and a striking sonic image, both intrinsically and as material for sound study and translation. I’m drawn to the evocation of overlaid sounds of such volume as to confuse distinctions of type and be audible over a great distance. (The appeal to distance as a measure of loudness occurs several times in the Bible.)

11.00 am: Back to ‘Creed’ [working title], and on with item 58 of 107. 1.30 pm: An amble. Due to heavy weather during the past few days, I’d not been out of the house since the weekend. A cold wind blew against the backdrop of an otherwise unseasonably warm day. In nature as in life, storms eventually blow themselves out.

Plascrug Avenue, Aberystwyth

2.00 pm: Having dispatched emails and messages, I began the book of Job and alighted upon a passage to which I’d not given any attention previously. Chapter 4 and verses 12 to 16 record the protagonist’s account of a profoundly disturbing supernatural encounter, which effected him both physically and psychologically. A spirit glided passed his face, and stayed before his eyes. Yet, its appearance was indiscernible. Then, there was silence. Then, it spoke. The description would not be out of place in either the annals of the Society for Psychical Research or a ghost story by M. R. James.

November 10. 8.15 am: A communion. (This practice has, over the years, become such a regular habit that I no longer mention it in the ‘diary’ blogs. It’s the first activity in each day after breakfast: a period for reflection, intercession, confession, and resolution, following structures outlined in the Book of Common Prayer.)

9.00 am: I pushed on with the BibleSound database. Of the stars in the heavens and the firmament — silent utterance in the vacuum of space:

There is no speech, nor are there words;
their voice is not heard;
yet their voice goes out through all the earth
and their words to the end of the world.

Psalm 19. 3-4

In the background, I listened to a documentary about the Scole Experiment. It was investigated by the Society for Psychical Research in the mid 1990s. By then (in my opinion), the Society had shifted from its founders’ mission — to prove fakery (scepticism) — to one of establishing authenticity (validation). The difference in outlook is subtle, but significant. I (along with Prof. Richard Wiseman) disassociated myself from it for this reason. Moroever, the so-called ‘scientists’ who undertook a rigorous examination of the sites and apparatus surrounded putative supernatural phenomena represented fields of expertise — such as electrical engineering, plant science, and mechanics — that were hardly pertinent to assessing the task at hand. And what scientist worth their salt would ever concede to making their observations under conditions of complete darkness. Moreover, any learned-professor — too desperate to believe — may subliminally succumb to sophisticated conjuring tricks — which, I suspect, the Scole Experiment represented.

[unknown], Harry Houdini and the ghost of President Abraham Lincoln (c. 1920-30) (courtesy of Wikimedia Commons)

November 11. 7.45 am: I reviewed my pattern for work over the past months. Some activities would be furthered faster if they were allocated to other times of the day. Remembering and understanding new knowledge are best achieved in the morning and early afternoon. Whereas late afternoons and evenings are better suited to consolidating acquired skills and apprehensions. There was a time when the period from 11.00 pm to 1.00 am was a good time for writing, for me. No longer. My brain has changed as I’ve aged; so I’ve learned to be flexible and adapt. 8.00 am: Onwards!

The clouds gathered seaward. The light was subdued throughout the day: dispiriting; disquieting. Some storms in life linger long and end with a crescendo, sweeping all before them. There’re days which seem to not only corrode hope but also forebode evil tidings. And hope is scarce these days. But we each need it as much as food, shelter, and clothing. In its absence, day-by-day living is too wretched a prospect.

Promenade, Aberystwyth

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